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Natural Awakenings Atlanta

Giving Thanks for the Life of My Teacher

Nov 01, 2022 06:00AM ● By Paul Chen
On September 17, 2022, Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, founder of the New Kadampa Tradition (NKT)—International Kadampa Buddhist Union, “showed the manner of passing peacefully into the clear light.” Geshe-la, as he was called, was my teacher, and meeting him changed the course of my life. 

In this season of thanksgiving, I can offer no greater appreciation for anything, even life itself, than for the life of one who was devoted to others so selflessly. Geshe-la’s sole purpose was to teach as many living beings as possible to attain peaceful minds and to lead and accompany them on their journeys to enlightenment.

Under Geshe-la’s tutelage, I have gained a handful of “realizations.” To realize something is to know that thing in one’s heart, not just in one’s mind. To know something in one’s heart is to permanently change one’s perspective and to motivate one to be different and do different. Knowing things at a merely intellectual level has no such power. 

In a story I’ve shared before, my first realization came within the first two sentences of the very first teaching I heard in 1999. Atlanta’s original NKT teacher, Gen Kelsang Losang, had begun class by asking, “Happiness is a state of mind, wouldn’t you agree?” The small gathering of students nodded in silent agreement. “Then, in order to be happy, all you need to do is change your mind.”   

To this day, I recall my instantaneous and violent reaction. “Fuck. It is entirely up to me!” In a split second, I knew I could no longer pass responsibility for any of my unhappiness to anyone or anything other than me. My heart instantly knew it was true, and I was not particularly thrilled about it. 

While I could fill several pages with my experiences of realization, the best way to express thanks for the life of Geshe-la is to share his words, hoping that others might experience a spontaneous realization, too. ❧

When our wishes are not fulfilled, we usually experience unpleasant feelings, such as unhappiness or depression; this is our own problem because we are so attached to the fulfillment of our wishes.

We may think that our suffering is caused by other people, by poor material conditions or by society, but in reality, it all comes from our own deluded states of mind. The essence of spiritual practice is to reduce and eventually completely eradicate our delusions and replace them with permanent inner peace.

If we were to respond to difficult situations with a positive or peaceful mind, they would not be problems for us… Problems arise only if we respond to difficulties with a negative state of mind. Therefore, if we want to be free from problems, we must transform our mind.

We should realize that our deadliest enemies are anger and other delusions. Since these delusions are deeply ingrained mental habits, working to overcome them is not always easy.

Patience is a mind that is able to accept fully and happily, whatever occurs. It is much more than just gritting our teeth and putting up with things. Being patient means to welcome wholeheartedly whatever arises, having given up the idea that things should be other than what they are.

Without inner peace, outer peace is impossible. We all wish for world peace, but world peace will never be achieved unless we first establish peace within our own minds.

The path to enlightenment is really very simple—all we need to do is stop cherishing ourself and learn to cherish others. All other spiritual realizations will naturally follow from this.

Love is the real nuclear bomb that destroys all our enemies, because when we love all living beings, we have no enemies.

Our sense that we are an island, an independent, self-sufficient individual, bears no relation to reality. It is closer to the truth to picture ourself as a cell in the vast body of life, distinct yet intimately bound up with all living beings. We cannot exist without others, and they in turn are affected by everything we do. The idea that it is possible to secure our own welfare while neglecting the welfare of others, or even at the expense of others, is completely unrealistic.

I am always with you.

Publisher of Natural Awakenings Atlanta since 2017, Paul Chen’s professional background includes strategic planning, marketing management and qualitative research. He practices Mahayana Buddhism and kriya yoga. Contact him at [email protected].
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